By Troy Korsgaden
We all know that there is strong competition for every insurance dollar being spent. So how do we set our agency apart from the competition and ensure that our agency’s message is heard loud and clear by prospects and customers alike? Sure, your agency may offer the best service in town; your staff is probably friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Your agency has a full line of products to meet the needs of your customers. You may even have some new products to sell. Now, if someone would just call in and buy something! If this scenario describes your agency, it’s time to put an action plan in place that will guarantee your unique message is heard and that it makes an impact!
It is important to have a communication plan that can be easily executed throughout the year. Start by working backwards in defining how many times you want to touch your customer through correspondence, phone calls, automated message systems, advertisements, etc. In our office we goal plan each year. Part of our planning process includes customer contact. This includes planning for current clients—which requires 70 percent of our attention and focus—and focusing on external marketing, which takes up 30 percent of our time and energy.
Look at your customer base in the way that the high-tech companies do. Our customers are our installed base, which offers huge potential for agency growth. In order to capitalize on our installed base we need to have a systematic action plan of communicating with each and every customer. Seven “must” contacts or opportunities to make an impact are:
- Annual review. This annual face-to-face meeting is by definition a review of customer needs. For clients, the review is an opportunity to find out if they’re properly insured. For you, it’s much more. It’s absolutely imperative! It’s imperative because it allows you to build relationships, educate clients and discover unmet needs, which you can fill. While most agents pay lip service to the concept, less than 20 percent of all insurance agents actually conduct an annual review. That’s not just a statistic—it’s suicide! I know that’s a pretty strong word. But it’s true for these reasons: you’re forfeiting an exceedingly effective system for retaining business and increasing sales in a way that’s comfortable and nonthreatening to the client. And to retain business, you have to sell yourself and your agency every year!
- Ongoing communication. Here’s where your communication plan springs into action. It is important to have some system or method to consistently distribute correspondence to your insureds. Studies have shown that customers who see your name seven or more times a year are more likely to think of you when the subject of your product comes up. In our office, we have our computer program based on a matrix system to send a letter regarding a different product or service every two months. You may want to use your own company’s system, ACT, Goldmine, Tracker, or any systematic agency contact management system. In addition, you will want to seek out opportunities for personalized customer contact. Perhaps the customer now qualifies for a discount. Tell him/her! Perhaps you have a new product to sell. Send a letter detailing the benefits along with a product brochure. Be sure to follow up with a phone call to answer any questions. Every customer contact helps solidify your multi-line agency as an advisor, one that your customers can rely on to provide the information and service they need.
- Gather expiration dates “x-dates.” People are busy. They need us to take the first step in keeping track of the details to make sure that their assets are protected. Historically, gathering
x-dates has been viewed as seeking an opportunity for an additional sale. While that is certainly true, I look at this process differently. It is my responsibility to gather the information necessary to have a complete picture of my clients’ insurance needs so that I can do my job more effectively and professionally. Information is king! You know that intuitively, but if your staff is not actively seeking x-dates you’re missing the boat. And make no mistake. Those expiration dates are gold! Get enough of them and over time you can build a dynamic database that won’t cost you a dime. Best yet, those x-dates are a fast entry into new policies that you might otherwise never get a shot at.
- Acknowledge achievement and casual meetings with a handwritten note. A typical scenario might be hearing that one of your customers received an award or a promotion. What a perfect opportunity to cement the relationship by sending a note of congratulations. When I ran into a customer at the grocery store this week, he told me that his son had recently made the varsity basketball team. I sent a note of congratulations to the son. Believe me when I tell you that this small act of acknowledgment will go a long way when we next discuss insurance for the family.
- Send a note to say “Thank you!” When was the last time that someone you do business with sent you a handwritten note to say thank you for your business? Did it make a favorable impression on you? So many times we take our customers for granted. After all, we’re providing them with great service, and we think that should be enough. But it’s not. We need to systematically (there’s that pesky word again) tell our customers that we value the business they have entrusted us with and to acknowledge that trust with a “Thank you!” Making that personal connection helps build trust. And remember—if you don’t want to bother with this nicety, perhaps your competitor will.
- Contact your customers and ask for referrals. Yes, I know that some agents have a hard time asking for referrals, thinking that this is being “pushy.” I look at it differently. For example, if we dine at a great restaurant and have a delicious meal, I am inclined to tell my friends and associates about the experience. Why should it be any different for insurance agencies? If your agency is providing excellent service, it only makes sense that your customers will want their friends and associates to have the same benefits that your agency offers. All you need to do is ask.
- Send out press releases. The insurance industry is great about rewarding high achievers. As agents we often overlook the opportunity to notify the public and our customers about our achievements. You or your in-house PR staff person should have press release information including contact name, phone number, where to place the press release, etc., so that news about your agency can be faxed or mailed to all media in your local area. In our area we include press release information to towns as far away as 60 miles. Also be sure to announce new hires and staff promotions. Every time your customers read about you or your agency in the newspaper, it reinforces their decision to place their business with you.
Consistent communication with our customers is essential to maintaining a strong base of business. Utilizing the power of at least seven contacts to every customer this year virtually guarantees that your business will grow and thrive. Try it! Your customers will thank you.